It took a split-second for defenseman Brett Pesce to fully process it all.
The Carolina Hurricanes had beaten the Washington Capitals. Brock McGinn’s goal had won it 4-3, in double overtime. Game 7 was over. The playoff series was over. The Canes had won.
“Oh, God, I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so loud,” said Pesce, who took it all in from the blue line.
Many Canes fans surely did the same Wednesday, let out victorious primal screams. Playoff overtimes can be stressful but in the end exhilarating for the winners. And in Game 7, against the defending Stanley Cup champions, on their home ice?
“Unbelievable,” Pesce said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Not many of the Canes players had. But Justin Williams had. The Canes captain now has won eight Games 7s in his career and it figures he would be a big part of winning the eighth, the man known as “Mr. Game 7.”
Williams was the one who got to the puck along the wall and centered it toward the crease in the second overtime. McGinn was there waiting, his stick in the right spot. Goalie Braden Holtby couldn’t make the stop.
Officially, make it 11:05 of the second overtime, McGinn with the winner.
His feeling? “You just want to hug each other,” McGinn said, who soon was engulfed.
“It’s a pretty special moment for this organization and this team,” McGinn said. “We worked so hard all year and to get rewarded like that is an awesome feeling.”
It’s on to Brooklyn for the Hurricanes, who now face the New York Islanders in the second round. And with little rest: Game 1 is Friday and Game 2 on Sunday afternoon, both at the Barclays Center.
When the Canes lost the first two games of the series at Capital One Arena, it appeared it could be over quickly. The Canes won two games at home, at pulsating PNC Arena, only to return to Washington to be ripped 6-0 in Game 5.
But this team, the so-called “bunch of jerks,” was resilient. They went back to Raleigh and won 5-2. They then came back to Capital One Arena, only to fall behind 2-0 in the first period and 3-1 in the second.
The arena was rocking in the first period when the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin made a spinning play with the puck in the neutral zone, quickly stickhandled past defenseman Jaccob Slavin in the Canes zone and found Tom Wilson open for a one-timer and score for the 2-0 lead.
The Canes needed something good to happen at that point and Sebastian Aho supplied it -- a shorthanded score, an instant energizer. It came after a Jordan Martinook penalty, with the Caps on the power play and looking to push the lead to 3-0.
“That broke the ice for us,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If they score ...
“I think it perked everybody up, like ‘We’re still in the game.” And then we got better as we went along.”
Teuvo Teravainen scored later in the second, after Evgeny Kuznetsov had given the Caps the 3-1 lead with a score off the rush. When Jordan Staal ripped a shot from the right circle past Holtby early in the third, it was 3-3.
“They just kept battling back,” Brind’Amour said. “There was no letdown.”
McGinn made a critical defensive play late in regulation. After a Wilson shot, goalie Petr Mrazek hit the puck with his right skate, but a diving McGinn knocked it away inches from the goal line.
“I don’t know if it had enough steam to cross the line but I don’t think I was taking that chance,” McGinn said.
The Canes had 11 shots in the first overtime, coming close to ending it. They finally did on the seventh shot of the second OT.
“It’s a good feeling,” Williams said. “It’s jubilation, relief that it’s over. That was a hard, hard, hard-fought game.”
The series over, the two teams exchanged handshakes -- the Caps seemingly stunned and the Canes tired but happy. Williams, who played for the Caps for two years before coming to the Canes, and Ovechkin lingered for a moment.
“There’s a respect for competitiveness,” Williams said. “You can kick the snot out of each other and look each other in the eye and say, ‘Man, that was a great series.’ That’s why we play, right, to compete.”
Asked about adding to his “legacy” in Games 7s, Williams quickly replied, “This is not my story. It’s the Hurricanes story, and I’m proud of every single one of our guys. But we’re not done.”